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Chronic pain is something that many people deal with – 76.2 million people, in fact; more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Chronic pain has different manifestations. The most common are headaches, back pain, migraines, facial pain or neck pain.

Suffering from chronic pain is something that is incredibly difficult – not just on the one with the pain, but the others in their life. Friends and family see less of their loved one because their loved one just doesn’t have the energy, they don’t have a “good day” that day where their pain is low enough so they can go out for coffee or maybe a movie.

Chronic pain, besides the obvious symptom of the pain, has other symptoms as well. Sufferers have trouble concentrating, have low energy levels (sometimes despite taking vitamin or mineral supplements), suffer from severe depression, and overall, their enjoyment of life has been impacted – they just don’t enjoy things nearly as much as they used to, if at all.

It can be a shock to try and manage, to try to live with. Many sufferers are on pain medication, usually strong NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or opiates (such as Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycontin). Even while on pain management medication, flares happen and patients either have to have other meds at home or an emergency room/urgent care plan.  Many times when they do go to the ER or UC, they are treated without much respect, left to wait for at least an hour before a nurse comes in to take down information and tell you the doctor will be in shortly, which is then at least another hour later. It’s a production that’s not very productive because most sufferers are treated like drug seekers, like their pain isn’t real.

Well, sure, technically, they are drug seekers. But it’s because they’re in pain. REAL PAIN.

Luckily there are options available. Pain clinics, implantable nerve stimulators, new classes of medications being developed and tested, Botox being used for migraines, fibromylagia and MS, and other options are out there.

Speaking from my own experience from dealing with migraines nearly my whole life, since I was at least six, though they didn’t get severe until I was 15 or so – then worse again at 17 and 22 – chronic pain has had a severe impact on my life.

I was involved in two car accidents, neither of which I was at fault, and they became the impetus  for my pain to begin to get worse. I’ve been unable to finish college, although I graduated high school a year early, full of ambition. My long-term relationship fell apart for many reasons, one of them the results of my pain and the impact it had on the both of us, and I’ve found myself, at 25, living back home with my parents, on Social Security Disability.

I have daily headaches and near daily migraines. On that scale of 1 to 10, my pain (unmedicated) never gets below a 6. A migraine unmedicated never gets below an 8. I have a miniature pharmacy upstairs on my bureau with a notebook next to it so I can keep track of what I take so there’s no accidental overdose, since I do take some pretty heavy medications.

I’m still trying to figure out what my new goals are. My old goals, well, most of them, are out of reach now. My brain just doesn’t operate the same way, even though all the scans and tests I’ve had done in the last eight years say everything is fine and there’s no scarring or damage. I’m just not the same.

I was the girl who never had to study for things. I never had to actually read the books that were assigned in class. It was the same my first semester in college. Then my first accident happened. I had to put some effort in, but my grades still dropped some. Then the second accident happened and it didn’t matter even what I did, how I tried to study (honestly, I really didn’t know how. I don’t know if I do know how now even), and my grades just dropped.  I waited a couple years and tried going back and I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t handle the work – and it was only two classes.

The best thing for someone suffering with chronic pain is to have an amazing support system. It’s not always easy to come by, and it’s not always going to come from who you expect. You family may be there and support you, give you that hug that you just need one day, but they’re emotionally unavailable, detached at times, too overwhelmed from it all. But you have friends, in real life, online, and they’re always there to lift you up. Your doctors and sometimes even strangers can be part of your support system. You never know who you’re going to need from day-to-day.

Time to remember that there are ways to keep living, even though there are times when it feels like this is no way to live your life. There are ways to make things better, even if it’s just a little.

~*~ Greenlee